A Thin Ridge of Pain
Saturday, I stood at 10064 ft with the high planes desert falling away to my right and the basin of LA receding beneath a blanket of clouds to the left. We were hiking the Baldy Bowl Trail, a path that follows the crest of Mount Baldy and is little more than two feet wide at times.
Did I take a moment to revel in the glory of God's creation and the beauty of the human body? I hear you ask.
-Yes, I spent most of the time reflecting on the accute burning in my lungs and the wonder of a dizzy head.
Did I, while I was up on that beautiful hike, take time to commune with nature and contemplate my place in the universe?
-Yes, I waited doggedly with every bend in that blasted trail to discover how far we had gone, and with each searing jolt in my knees, where the trail would end!
Or did I, after finishing the 8.2 mile hike, take time to think about human nature and the depths of the human psyche?
-Yes! I marvelled at the ability of pain to reduce me to nothing more than a spoiled 13 year-old girl, with a propensity toward whining and sulking.
I wish I could tell you how hiking Mt. Baldy, that stoney, brilliant mountain, brought out an inner strength. But the truth is it broke me. It made me ugly, and I resented it for that. At one point, I was on my haunches crying, tears pouring down my face, while Dwayne stood pulling at my arm, trying to encourage me on. While I was genuinely in pain, I can't reconcile the way that pain made me react.
This is how bad I was: sometimes, I'd fall behind trying to go at my own pace and stay fresh. But when I got tired anyway, and lonely -- I pouted. I'd look at the other three chattering away, pushing ahead cheerfully, and feel miserable about my own miserable state. Then I'd fall even more behind, pulling that all famous junior high move to see if anyone would notice I was gone.
At other times, when I heard the guys calling the other girl a "superstar" and a "powerhouse" for keeping up, I'd suddenly barrel past all of them in a petty attempt to show off.
Ah, so mature. So full of grace and dignity that Christin. She handles herself well, yes?
And finally, after moving past sulking, then petty competitiveness, I resorted to pure aggression. Enraged by the pain that would not go away, I did what any desperate girl will do, I attacked -- my husband.
"I'm weaker than you!" I retorted in the truck on the way home. "I'm not as athletic!" "Why couldn't we have done a nice 4 mile hike across a meadow?!" "You just don't care about me!"
To be fair, and only a little fair to myself, I should mention that 3/4 of the way through the hike, Dwayne discovered my pack was even heavier than his. When he took it off my shoulders to carry it for me, I felt suddenly lighter. My steps didn't hurt as much.
In addition, I hadn't prepared very well for the hike. The extent of my warm-up was twisting in a swivel chair and moving six paces to the copy machine. So I wasn't in shape for a gruesome task like Mt. Baldy. It was probably too much for my body, but that doesn't leave me any less conflicted today. While the adolescent as retreated back to her cave, her memory still burns, like a bright light on the retina, and I'm left with a residue of embarrassment, dare I even say "shame."
That I haven't outgrown her, that she still exists, shocks me. Her breath feels sticky inside me. It took so little to bring her out full-force, undistilled, and sweaty. This leaves me with a sinking feeling. I'm not who I thought I was, entirely. I haven't gained as much depth in these last 12 years as I thought.
This past Sunday, Erwin McManus said, "People don't change, but God changes people."
All week I've been haunted by that 13 year-old girl and the knowledge that she hides behind a very thin veil. I've been working through this realization slowly and thoughtfully, because I don't want to be mistaken about who I am or what my nature is truly.
"That's so morbid," you say. "Why do you want to depress yourself?"
It's not a matter of depression. Not even a matter of self-deprication. Now that she's shown herself, I want to pull that girl out, and look her in the face. I want to see her clearly, because seeing her does a strange thing: it makes me grateful. It makes the grace that works inside me everyday sharp and close, like the razor edge of a mountain's crest.
We are two separate things, this grace and I, but somehow held together, moving and reaching, bumping up against one another. The moment I forget how close I am to ugliness, is the moment I loose my place on the mountain. I forget where I am, the pain in my feet, the heat in my head, the truth of being cleansed. But if I can stay honest, if I can remember there is no vast basin between me and myself, just a thin ridge of pain, then I feel accutely, with overwhelming gratitude, the force that works within me, purifying everday that which the earth of my body can not get rid of itself.
(Photo by Dave Chapman, taken from http://www.kickbully.com/hikes/mb/mb.html)